HONG KONG – Just as the Chinese celebrated the start of the year of the pig, authorities in Hong Kong warned that its residents were facing a porcine influx of a different nature as groups of wild boar had trotted into the densely populated autonomous territory.
Some welcome the invasion as a sign of fortune and prosperity, but in other cases tensions were rising as human citizens and the hairy pigs in their midst struggled to get along.
As the vast metropolis continues to eat away the surrounding green spaces, the wild boards have been drawn to the city in growing numbers and are regularly spotted meandering through Hong Kong’s shopping malls, airport and university.
However, their mingling with locals have often resulted in attacks on humans, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said.
The AFCD said that boar attacks on humans have soared since 2013 with over 700 incidents recorded in 2017 alone, which translated as an average of two a day.
The primary reason the boars have invaded the city is due to food, which causes them to lose their natural instincts, said Paul Crow, a senior conservation office at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden’s Wild Animal Rescue Center.
Mismanagement of urban waste, which often contains large volumes of food that are attractive to animals, paired with many people erroneously thinking they are helping wild animals that otherwise would have nothing to eat is, itself, feeding the problem.
Crow is of the opinion that the best way to solve the issue would be government action that marries effective waste management policies paired with construction and urban design that addresses the challenges.
The AFCD has warned Hong Kong citizens not to interact directly with the boars, given they are wild animals, and has suggested that feeding the creatures should be criminalized because the soaring numbers is disrupting the dynamics between wild animals and humans.
Authorities are mulling what to do next.
One member of parliament suggested releasing larger predators into the wild in the hope they would kill the wild pigs reducing numbers, but this idea was ruled out early on due to the larger threat these predators would pose for humans.
Another MP pondered relocating the boars to uninhabited islands – of which Hong Kong has over 250 across the Kowloon peninsula spanning over 500 square meters (0.3 square miles) – but many challenged whether this would be effective given boars are very competent swimmers.
For the moment authorities are putting all their efforts behind educating Hongkongers as well as researching designs of boar-proof rubbish bins.
The government has ruled out a cull, which was authorized a few years ago but ended in 2017 due to concerns over public safety and animal rights.
As an interim solution, the AFCD has launched a pilot program to catch and relocate the animals to more remote areas after the pigs have been micro-chipped as well as, in some cases, had a GPS tracking collar fitted in order to be able to relocate them if they were to stray again.
“Since launching this program we have caught an average of three wild pigs during each sweep. This indicates that catching them is more efficient than hunting where on average they would hunt down one wild pig with every sweep,” Vivien Chan from the AFCD said.
Female boars are also injected with a contraceptive which is efficient for around five years whilst authorities also consider the use of surgical sterilization.
Karthi Martelli, one of the vets working on the sterilization program thinks that the key issue is that we are taking away spaces from wildlife for human use, even though 40 percent of the city’s surface area is allocated to green spaces, parks and protected nature reserves.
In these spaces, wild boars cohabit with deer, porcupines, otters, snakes, endangered pangolin and over 530 species of birds, some of which are also endangered.
Figures suggest wild boars need not worry about extinction just yet.